The governments Selfish behaviour on arms to Saudi Arabia

Sometimes it takes a twist to make something appealing, and one heavyweight TV programme that still sticks in my mind is the Will Self-fronted investigation into Britain’s arms industry from 2002.
 
Though I’m no fan of his novels (his New Statesman Real Meals columns on cheap restaurants are excellent however!), Self’s barbed-erudition style works well in the right setting and seeing this former heroin addict explore Britain’s “addiction” to the arms industry was memorable telly.
 
The most telling passage was where he marvelled at the way that a National Audit Office report on corruption in the Al-Yamamah deal with Saudi Arabia was suppressed. It was “the only time”, I recall him saying more than once, that the NAO was blocked from publishing its findings.
 
Fast forward eight years and …. well, the Al-Yamamah juggernaut thunders on, easily the biggest arms deal in UK history. The NAO report is still unpublished, and of course a separate Serious Fraud Office investigation into Al-Yamamah has also been controversially shelved.
 
Hmm. Do you get the impression that someone doesn’t want us to know about how bribes, secret bank accounts and slush funds might have oiled the wheels of this massive deal with the Saudi princes?
 
Now, as Amnesty’s arms expert Oliver Sprague says, Al-Yamamah weaponry has reportedly been used by Saudi Arabia to bomb villages in northern Yemen as part of its underreported conflict with “Huthi” rebels. What we appear to have, explains Sprague, is the first damning evidence of UK-supplied arms being used by the Saudi Arabians in ways that seemed to have caused huge loss of civilian life. If proven, these would constitute very serious human rights violations. The only responsible thing for the UK government to do, as Sprague notes, is for it to suspend any further shipments of equipment to Saudi Arabia that could add to this while an investigation is carried out.
 
To use a word once much in vogue in government circles, an investigation into whether British arms are killing innocent Yemeni villagers would certainly seem the ethical course of action. Yet the “ethical foreign policy” idea became something of an embarrassment to the 1997-2010 Labour governments and now we also have news that the Coalition administration is to scrap the government’s annual human rights report.
 
So, as Will Self might well ask, is it to be trade, trade, trade and damn the consequences? Indeed, what price the human rights of Yemeni villagers when lucrative arms deals are at stake?

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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